After fun moment to close practice, UND sets sights on regular-season finale
The Fighting Hawks will find out their destination for the NCHC quarterfinals Saturday night.
GRAND FORKS — UND has a specific order of shooters when it does its weekly Thursday shootout competition.
The freshmen go first. Then, it's the sophomores, juniors, seniors and coaches.
But sometimes, for special occasions, they'll let someone else go first — like a player suiting up in his hometown.
This weekend, UND will recognize its seniors during its two-game series against Omaha in Ralph Engelstad Arena, so the players demanded the fourth-year seniors start the shootout.
Carson Albrecht was first. The senior, who has been in-and-out of the lineup throughout his career, made a slick move to his backhand and scored on starting goalie Drew DeRidder, drawing loud roars from his teammates.
Nine others advanced to Round 2.
Albrecht started it out again with a goal, drawing another big reaction. After that: save, save, save, save, save, save, save.
Then, it was Gavin Hain's turn.
Hain walked the puck between the dots, wound up for a slap shot and hammered it 10 feet wide. He wasn't going to ruin this moment.
Albrecht won his first shootout of the year, the team darted toward him, sprayed him with snow, poked and prodded him with their sticks and had some fun in their final practice of the regular season.
Now, UND will turn to business.
The Fighting Hawks will host Omaha, still hopeful they can climb high enough in the Pairwise Rankings to reach the NCAA tournament. UND also is looking to grab as high of a seed as possible for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, which begin next weekend.
The Fighting Hawks enter the weekend on a four-game unbeaten streak and are playing their best hockey of the season. They've done it by correcting their biggest issue.
In the first 17 games of the season, UND allowed 58 goals (3.41 per game).
In the 16 games since, the Fighting Hawks have allowed 42 goals (2.63 per game).
"It starts in the offensive zone, tracking back through the neutral zone, coming into our end of the rink and trying to make sure we outnumber the opponent," UND coach Brad Berry said. "If they're going to get opportunities, it's from the outside and it's only one shot and there aren't many rebounds. I think that's where we're playing better as a group on the ice.
"But also we're getting better goaltending and getting more consistent goaltending as well."
DeRidder, a fifth-year senior transfer from Michigan State, has claimed the No. 1 starter role. He's posted a .914 save percentage since Dec. 1.
In his 13 starts during that span, the Fighting Hawks are 7-3-3. Two of the losses were at Penrose Cup champion Denver.
DeRidder was named the NCHC's co-goalie of the week after allowing just one goal in 130 minutes last weekend at Colorado College.
"I think it's bearing down on little things and trusting our systems," UND alternate captain Ethan Frisch said. "It's having the confidence that we are able to do it. We've done it for the past few years here. We have a good system in place. Teams are learning what we do, but there's a reason it's worked so well.
"I think I said in an interview earlier this year, being hard to play against isn't just necessarily a mentality. It's an effort to do the little things right, manage pucks, gain zones or boxing out in front. Those things really add up. I think just focusing on those and trying to build our game now has been a huge difference."
UND (14-13-6) earned a win and a tie against Omaha in the first meeting between the teams. That was the NCHC opener back in the first weekend of November.
The Mavericks (18-11-3) have charged up to second in the standings by going 10-2-1 since New Year's Eve. They could finish anywhere between second and fourth. Omaha's highest-ever finish in the NCHC is third. The Mavericks did that in 2013-14 and 2014-15 under Dean Blais.
UND could finish anywhere between fifth and seventh. It's possible UND could play Omaha again next weekend in the NCHC quarterfinals.
"We're trying to keep climbing the standings here," Berry said. "It's always a battle. It's two teams that play extremely hard. They're very close games and they're very competitive. There are a lot of things going into this weekend, but most of all, it's trying to keep playing the right way and trying to win some games."
No. 14 Omaha at UND
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).